Sunday, January 31, 2016

Being a Prophet is Serious Business

4 Sun OT Yr C (2016)
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Being a prophet is serious business…
First, there is the simple fact that prophets get rejected by the people to whom they’re called to preach.  Rejected, marginalized, ignored, ridiculed…  In Old Testament times, prophets were thought of the way we think of the guy walking around with a sign warning of alien abduction. 
Then there’s this business of being responsible for sharing God’s message – not my message or your message – not Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump’s message, but God’s message.  Being a prophet means setting aside what I think and what I want to say and replacing that with what God wants to say.  It means getting honest enough to recognize that putting my agenda before God’s agenda is tantamount to recreating God into my own image, the most devastating of sins against the First Commandment possible. 
That requires a sincere, honest, and tangible relationship with God – not a degree in theology or lots of well thought out opinions and well crafted statements.  Being a prophet transcends a desire to be nice and preach a message everyone wants to hear, and requires a real relationship with the One whose message the prophet is called to carry.  After all, how can the prophet know God’s message if the prophet doesn’t know God.  Notice, I didn’t say know about God, or even know about God’s message; the prophet must know God
And what’s perhaps the worst of all?  “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”  Why?  Because often the homefolks have no desire for the truth; they’d much rather we all just get along.  And so they become filled with fury and rise up to drive the prophet out of town and hurl them down the hill.
Being a prophet is serious business…so it’s a good thing we’re not called to be prophets, isn’t it?  As much work as it takes and as dangerous as the payoff is, it just doesn’t seem worth it.  It’s a good thing we’re not called to be prophets.  Except…friends, that’s exactly what you and I are called to be.
At your baptism, the priest or deacon anointed your head with Sacred Chrism and prayed, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you” – that’s you, friend – each and every one of you – “so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”  Meaning that, just as Jesus Christ was priest, prophet, and king – you, too, are priest, prophet and king.  If you can hear the sound of my voice you’re called to be a prophet.  And being a prophet is serious business.  There are risks, and the homefolks might try to throw you down a cliff.  You have to be humble enough to set yourself and your agenda aside, and invest in a relationship with Jesus Christ that is real enough and deep enough to have some sense of what He wants you to preach.  It require holy boldness to speak the truth more than tickle the ears of others by saying what they want to hear and avoiding truth they prefer to ignore.
How, exactly, are we to try to do that?  One simple, single, little, life-changing word.  Love.  Love.  Ask any parent – love means saying the difficult thing even when it doesn’t want to be heard.  Ask any spouse – love means being patient enough to listen and honest enough to speak the truth.  Love is patient and kind – but rejoices in the truth, and will speak long and often and generously and repeatedly to communicate truth.  And love never fails. 
Friends – we’re all in this place called, each and every one of us, called to be prophets.  To risk ridicule and walking out of step with those around us to preach the truth of God’s love and mercy, which has a face and a name, Jesus Christ.  We’re called to stand for something when everyone around us is falling for everything, and the only way to pull that off is love.  And even then…the homefolks might try to throw us down a cliff…

But do not fear – for what the Father said to Jeremiah applies directly to you, too:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you…  They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”  Go – be a prophet for Christ – preach the Truth in love…you are called for this, and God is with you.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Face of Mercy

3rd Sun OT Yr C 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

"Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith…Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father.  Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person, reveals the mercy of God."  (Misericordiae Vultus, par. 1)
On April 11th of last year, the Holy Father announced an extraordinary Jubilee Year and said that it would be a Year of Mercy.  Chances are you’ve heard about this.  You’ve heard about Holy Doors and special permissions for confessors.  You’ve heard about changes the Holy Father has made to streamline the annulment process in many cases to help hundreds of thousands of Catholics return in an honest and authentic way to the celebration of the sacraments.  You may know that there are special Missionaries of Mercy being commissioned soon in Rome to go share this good news and help to bring others back into friendship with God by helping to bring them back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  You may know of special indulgences and a special focus on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that Pope Francis is encouraging during this Year of Mercy.  And some of us might have heard all of that…and not have any real idea what any of it means.
And that’s OK.  Because what really matters is contained right there in those first words of the letter he wrote to announce the Year of Mercy to the universal Church and the whole world.  Those words I quoted just a moment ago:  Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.  Misericordiae Vultus – literally, in Latin – the “Face of Mercy” – the name of Pope Francis’ document on the Year of Mercy because they are the first words of the document in Latin.  In English, we have to rearrange the words for it to make sense, but in Latin the first words Pope Francis has to say on the subject: Misericordiae vultus Patris est Christus Iesus – Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.
You see – God has been merciful from the very beginning.  From the moment our first parents disobeyed Him, every man, woman, and child has deserved nothing but eternal separation from God.  But God wasn’t satisfied to let us wallow in what we deserved, and so right from the very beginning the Father has shown His mercy toward us.  But, we just couldn’t wrap our minds and our hearts around it.  The Father made covenants with us, and we broke them.  He gave us chances to learn the difficult lessons – and we learned them…for a while…but then we forgot.
On our worst days, we completely disregarded the covenant, and made God into our own image and changed His law to suit our preferences and serve our purposes.  Think Aaron and the golden calf.  Think Pharisees.  Think abortion, and gay marriage.  Think environmental abuse and financial extravagance.  On our best days, we see God’s law as something that shackles us and limits our freedom, and relate to God as if He’s a mean overlord who seeks nothing but to impose an arbitrary set of rules on our lives, forgetting that the laws of the covenant are designed to lead us to happiness and protect our bodies and souls for eternity with Him.  We bend the knee and bury our face before God in fear and shame, rather than out of love and worship.  Think today’s first reading.  Think of running to confession out of fear of hell, as opposed to running there out of love and a desire to become the woman or man God most wants us to be, the human person – fully free, free for love, free for life.
God had been trying to communicate His mercy to us since the beginning of time…but it just wasn’t working.  Eucharistic Prayer IV, which we’ll pray at this Mass (so pay attention to it later) puts it like this:  Time and again you offered them covenants, and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.  But we just didn’t seem to get the message.  Covenants, laws, rules, practices – priests, judges, kings and prophets.  God’s mercy was perfect…but we were so fallen we couldn’t really understand it.  Until… Misericordiae vultus Patris est Christus Iesus – the face of the Father’s mercy of is Christ Jesus.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…He said in today’s Gospel…because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  Jesus came for this – to help us finally get it – the Father’s mercy.  Jesus came so that by coming to know Him, we might finally come to know the Father’s mercy.
Friends – our parish community runs the gamut of belief and practice of the Catholic faith.  We are liberal and conservative. We are ad orientum and versus populum.  We are traditional and contemporary.  We are cultic and liturgical – and social justice and service oriented.  We are sinners and saints.  We are the mainstream and the fringes.  We are passionate, and we are marginal.  We are taking our faith seriously, and we are going through the motions.  We are people for whom faith is making a tangible, real difference in our lives – and we are people who are lukewarm at best and absolute pretenders at worst.  In short, we are God’s people – since the beginning of time and down through history, we are just like God’s people always have been.  And – just like them – we will never know anything about mercy other than fanciful words and futile efforts…until we come to know Jesus Christ, who is Himself the face of the Father’s mercy.
Our parish is doing many things to make this Extraordinary Year of Mercy change us, grow us, convert us.  Because Pope Francis is right – we’ll never ‘get it’ until we ‘get Him’.  And our efforts get started this Thursday evening with an opportunity to engage the amazing teaching Pope Francis has given us in Misericordiae Vultus.  I can’t encourage you strongly enough to be a part of it.  Together as a family of faith – one family of faith – even spread as far across the spectrum as we are – together as one family of faith, I exhort you and invite you to come be a part of our Thursday night gathering.  Let our efforts as a family of faith help you encounter God’s mercy…Jesus Christ – the One whom we’ve come to worship and adore this morning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Do We Do When We Run Out?

2nd Sunday Ordinary Time/Yr C - 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

What do we do when we run out?
Sometimes it feels like our jars are running dry.  We’re running out of energy, or patience.  Sometimes it feels like we’re running out of time.  There are days when we just don’t think we have enough humility left to go to the confessional one more time to confess the same old sins.  Many of us sitting here right now have been away from the sacrament for a long time, because we ran out of courage and humility a long time ago.  Sometimes our jar of faith is running low – spiritual or emotional or physical illness and struggle seem to have used up all of our reserves, and when we need it the most it seems like we’re running low on faith.
Chances are, each of us can identify something it feels like we’ve run out of if we’re honest enough to admit it.  Take a moment right now and ask – what do I feel like I’m running out of?
What do we do when we run out?  Sometimes we just ignore it, and do the best we can to keep on going without whatever it is we most desperately need.  Sometimes we pretend – we pretend to ourselves and to everyone around us that we’ve got plenty, because who wants to admit to being the guy or gal that has run out?  Especially in our culture, we’re embarrassed if we’ve run out, we don’t want to be thought of as somehow less than – and so we say all the right things and go through all the right motions to try to convince ourselves and everyone around us that we have enough; because, after all, that’s better than being the one without. 
I wonder what would happen if we stopped doing that?  I wonder what would happen if we began responding to our own running out the way they did in today’s Gospel.  What if we told Jesus honestly that we’ve run out, and then listened for his instruction and did whatever He told us to do?  That’s what they did, isn’t it?  Starting right with the Blessed Mother, she told him they’d run out.  That’s a quite beautiful and simple model for prayer, isn’t it?  She didn’t confuse the issue with lots of soul-searching or explanation; she didn’t wait until she knew whose fault it was that they ran out.  Mary didn’t delay until she understood the implications of running out, and she didn’t feel the need to explain a lot about it.  She just quite simply turned to Jesus and expressed the need.  What have you run out of?  Why not just tell Jesus – right now – tell Him.  “Lord, I’ve run out of…”
They told Jesus that they’d run out, and then they listened for Him to tell them what to do next.  Sometimes we get as far as the prayer, don’t we?  We get that far, and then we start telling Jesus what to do next.  Notice…Mary didn’t say, “Jesus, they’ve run out of wine.  Can you make some miraculously appear in the empty jars?”  She didn’t say, “We’re out of wine – so what we need right now is for you to make it rain fermented grape juice, a nice Merlot perhaps – but not a Shiraz, that won’t work.”  Mary didn’t say, “Lord – they’ve run out of wine; so what we need you to do is have the vineyard spontaneously appear with a truckload of good wine and offer to give it to us.”  No – Mary gives us the perfect example here: she simply and succinctly stated the need, and then quietly waited for the Lord to describe what they should do next.
How much of our prayer when we’re in need is just so much noise filled with us telling God how He should go about meeting our need.  “Lord, I’ve run out of faith and I need you to give me some more, so help me encounter you in everything I do, give me an experience of your love and presence like I had on that retreat a while back, and then just show me a sign – any sign – show me some sign tomorrow that you’re here, that you love me.”  I’m not saying that’s a bad prayer…but…think about how different it might be if we simple said, “Lord, I’ve run out of faith” and then waited, listening, hearing what He has to say, and ready to do whatever He suggests.  Isn’t it possible that He has something in store far better than what we might be able to come up with?  Isn’t it possible that from His loving and eternal perspective He has a better plan than we do?  Isn’t it possible God intends to meet more of our needs in this situation than we’ve even become aware of?  Isn’t it possible that sometimes what makes it seems like God isn’t doing anything is that He’s waiting for us to listen for what He wants to do that’s far more amazing and providential than what we can see in our place of having run out?
What do we do when we run out of wine?
What should we do when we run out of wine? 
Friends – when we run out – God always has a plan, and that plan is always to provide for our need and – at the same time – to reveal God’s glory; very often, to reveal that glory to us when we’ve run out.  If we can just get out of God’s way, and follow this simple example from today’s Gospel.  What if we get honest about what we’re lacking, tell Jesus our need simply and briefly, then listen for Him to tell us what to do next, and no matter how ridiculous it sounds, follow His lead.  It will never fail…

Monday, January 4, 2016

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Epiphany - Year C - 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          I had an epiphany this week.  That shouldn't be surprising - some sort of awakening or new understanding should accompany our celebration of the Epiphany.  It all started with asking a simple question:  'What is the relationship of Epiphany to Christmas?'  Why are these wise men from the East always part of the Christmas scene?  What I realized is this – here’s my Christmas Epiphany:  we haven't really experienced Christmas until we, too, have followed the path of the wise men.  What they did was simple - but far from easy; what they did is a model for how we should live our lives in light of the Christmas reality.  And what did they do?  They came without knowing where they were going; they saw with the eyes of faith; and they were changed as a result.
They came without knowing where they were going.
          We don't know much about these men from the East except that they were searching, looking for a sign; and when they saw the sign, they followed it - they responded to it - and they followed where it led them.  And I’m guessing that what they found wasn’t what they thought they were looking for.
          A while ago, I set out to meet some friends at ‘the best little coffee shop around.’  I'd never been there before, and was in a town I'm not all that familiar with.  All I had was this vague description - the best little coffee shop around - and my GPS.  In the maze of one-way streets and strange downtown parking arrangements, even after I heard that recorded female voice announce 'Arriving at Destination,' I drove around for another 15 minutes almost completely lost.  But my desire to visit with my friends urged me on - and eventually I found it.
          We are all coming from different places in our lives - but in one way or another, God is calling us toward Himself.  He calls us into this community, He calls us to hear and respond to His word, He calls us to meet Him at this altar.  God calls us into a relationship with Him that lasts beyond our encounter here - He calls us to live the mystery of Christmas all year long - at home, at work, and in the world.  Sometimes all we have is some vague notion of which direction to go - some vague understanding of what it means to live the Christian life in this crazy, crazy world.  But that's no excuse.  We are called to live like the Magi, who came without knowing where they were going.
... and they saw with the eyes of faith.
          No one in their right mind would present these particular gifts to a poor child living in the middle of nowhere.  The gifts themselves suggest the Magi saw something that eyes alone could not explain.  Gold - gold is fit for a king!  It’s a sign of the king's wealth and dominion, a symbol of the power he is able to mobilize to accomplish whatever he wills.  And frankincense, a scent set apart for use in the sanctuary of the temple - used for the worship of the Most High God Himself.  Nothing they saw with their human eyes could have justified such a gift.  But they saw with the eyes of faith; lying there in the manger they saw the One Who Is To Come!  And what about myrrh?  Its bitterness was normally an embalming additive for dressing the bodies of the dead.  Through the eyes of faith these wise men saw the shadow of the cross.  These wise men didn't see a baby stricken with poverty and unsavory family circumstance; no, they saw the King of Kings destined for a profoundly sacrificial life!
          When I finally found that little coffee shop, I almost turned around and walked out.  It wasn't anything like I'd imagined.  Sparse and silent, instead of the warm glow and soft music expected.  Four drinks on the menu - not the dozens of choices I'm used to.  No large, comfy leather chairs to relax in, just cold, hard, hand-me-down dining room chairs from decades past.  There was NOTHING about this place that said 'best coffee shop around' - nothing... except the company, the friendship, and - once I got past my initial impressions - the coffee itself.
          How many times in our lives are we traveling as best as we can along the direction we think God is pointing us, only to arrive and look around in disbelief.  Only the eyes of faith can show us we're walking in the right direction.  Like the wise men, we are called to follow the path without knowing the destination, and to see ourselves and the world around us with the eyes of faith.
          The wise men followed the path without knowing the destination, they saw with the eyes of faith, and that changed them.  They departed by a different way.  Because they followed God’s leading - even when it was difficult to understand - they followed the path laid out for them and arrived in the presence of the Savior.  Because they saw with the eyes of faith, they truly encountered God’s love and mercy – they experienced the salvation of God in the flesh.  The same is true for us.  Without the journey and the eyes of faith, December 25th is nothing more than the birthday of a poor obscure Jewish boy.  There is no experience of Christmas without the Epiphany.
          Several years ago, I started seeing a beautiful phrase on Christmas cards and decorations.  'Wise Men Still Seek Him.'  Yes, friends, wise men and women still seek Him!  They journey without knowing where they're going, they see with the eyes of faith, and they are changed when they encounter Jesus Christ.  What about you?